A The Checkout piece slamming pharmacy for selling complementary medicines has offered suggestions for saving money that may actually cost consumers more.
Pharmacy Guild of Australia Queensland Branch president Tim Logan said that the satirical report’s suggestion consumers shop around for savings could delay their ability to access the Safety Net and fragment their care.
The Checkout’s Julian Morrow advised viewers to ask for generics, track their spending for Safety Net claims, and ask if their pharmacy is passing on the optional $1 discount on some PBS medicines.
“Chemists are supposed to absorb the cost of the discount, but not all of them are automatically passing it on,” he said, prying a box of medicine from the hand of a reluctant pharmacist.
He also advised consumers to visit different pharmacies to see if they offer below-copayment prices on some medicines.
Tim Logan told the AJP that “there were a few bits [in the report] that were a little bit close to home and a few bits where they skated over the details – for example, the $1 discount”.
“At least they said that the pharmacy absorbs that discount,” he said. “But what they didn’t say was that if you do get that discount, you still have to spend the same dollars to reach the Safety Net, as opposed to the easy calculation of whether you have 60 concessional scripts yet for the calendar year.”
Below-copayment script prices also affect Safety Net eligibility, Logan warned.
“The other thing about shopping around is that you should weigh up what are the likely savings, and whether they are offset by having someone who doesn’t know your medical history dealing with your medicines.
“On a one-off basis maybe that’s not so important, but if you’re a diabetic with multiple health problems and you’re going to 10 different pharmacies to get discounts, you have to question the value proposition of that compared to giving your patronage to one pharmacy which would have a complete picture of your health issues.”
Should pharmacies sell CMs?
The majority of the Checkout report asked whether pharmacies should be selling remedies with little or no evidence to support their use, with a particular focus on homeopathy but also looking at complementary medicines in a wider context.
Checkout presenter Kirsten Drysdale said that “Pharmacies have shelves full of complementary medicines and for the vast majority of them, evidence of their effectiveness is very slim indeed”.
She suggested that there was an increased push from pharmacy to sell CMs due to increased competition from big chains, in conjunction with the ban on advertising prescription drugs to consumers.
The Checkout interviewed Friends of Science in Medicine member and NSW pharmacist Ian Carr, who has been vocal on AJP about the issue of complementary medicines and alternative therapies.
“The problem with offering unproven treatments in pharmacy is that it lends credibility to quackery,” Carr told the program.
“And it increases the chances that in the future, customers with serious problems will consult naturopaths or homeopaths instead of GPs.”
It quoted the Pharmacy Guild’s Greg Turnbull, who advised in writing that the Guild is “not a regulatory body, nor a clinical authority, so we are not empowered to tell member pharmacies which complementary medicines to stock to meet the strong public demand”.
Logan agreed, underlining the fact that the Guild does not have the power to stop pharmacists selling CMs.
“But if people are serious about whether these medicines should be on the market, perhaps there should be beefed-up rules for TGA Listed medicines, as opposed to Regulated medicines, or rules about what they can say on their labelling,” he says.
He says he has argued in the past for a “green tick” label, similar to the Heart Foundation tick of approval, which would advise consumers quickly and easily that a CM had good evidence to support its use.
CM use in itself is unlikely to cause harm, he says.
“A far more serious thing is when people say, ‘don’t get vaccinated, have these magic homeopathic drops,’ or ‘don’t take your chemotherapy, eat these pulses and kale and you’ll feel better,’ or ‘don’t take your blood pressure medicine’.
“That’s the big danger, not wondering if taking CoQ10 will help you, which will only leave you out $10 or $12 if you decide it’s not for you.
“The most important thing is that a pharmacist informs their customers about the level of evidence supporting the recommended usage of these products.”
Watch The Checkout‘s segment below: